Thankful to God.
“God has a lot of plans for me. From the beginning of my life to the last.”
Rachel was 5 years old and visiting her grandmother’s house when she first noticed what looked like a small wound over her eye. Thinking at first it was just a bad bruise, the family visited specialists in Burundi, who discovered a bony tumor swelling behind her eye. They told the family to go to Kigali, Rwanda, and try to get help there.
“They told me they cannot do anything. I remember that.”
Rachel’s father Emmanuel sold their house, property, everything; he brought his family to Rwanda. There, over the course of seven years, he took Rachel to one hospital after another—to little effect.
“My eye was getting big and popping out … when I would go out children they laugh at me... It was getting very big.”
Finally, at 12 years old, Rachel found a doctor in Kigali who would undertake to remove her tumor and do a bone graph. Hope seemed near.
But after her surgery, without the resources to get the post-operative care she needed, things got incredibly worse. Rachel began to experience constant, agonizing pain in her head—such pain that she would cry all night and all day. She lost vision in one eye. Most frightening, the skin around her bone graph began to split so that the bone showed through, and soon the large wound became infected. Within a few months, a second large head wound had opened up. This too became infected.
“My day was very paining. I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t go anywhere because I sleep and my head was painful, my legs were paining, my back was paining, everywhere. I would stay like six months not leaving my home. I couldn’t even walk; they just had to carry me.”
No one would come near the house because of the odor from her open, infected head wounds.
“No one ever would come just to say hi. No one ever came here to see me. I never had friends and never went to school. … I was very scared. I cried, I would say can I die. Sometimes I would run away because I didn’t want to live this life. I would just say God I want to die or I want to get better. “
In those years, Rachel often spent whole days sitting in a favorite tree, hiding until dark, when her pain and deformity was less visible.
“I would go to this tree because I would pray to God. I would ask him to help me. I would cry and talk to him.”
“There was no hope for life. No living for Rachel. Even our neighbors told me we can’t keep running around with that child. They advised me to actually take her life instead of running everywhere to find help when they saw she wasn’t going to survive.”
Two years after her disastrous bone graph surgery the family had run completely out of options, when they learned that an Africa New Life medical team was visiting Kayonza. Rachel was reluctant to try again, after so many disappointments, but determined family members were persistent.
“I was with my cousin. She told me, let’s go see these people who can help you. I said no, I’m not going anywhere. I sit! She told me stand up and let’s go. I said no, because no one can help me. I want to stay here. She kept saying let’s go, let’s go. … I said okay. Let’s go. … Then all the people who were inside came out to see me. That’s why I’m thankful to God.”
The medical team arranged for her stay at a hospital in Kigali, where she received IV antibiotics and at first showed some improvement. But the tumor and head wounds continued to worsen—and doctors and Rachel’s family knew that if not properly treated, her condition would be fatal.
“We went everywhere and they did what they could. But, I got worse. I was thinking I’m going to die or God would do something.”
Finally, through the advocacy of Africa New Life staff and medical teams, an opportunity arose for Rachel to travel to the United States and receive treatment at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. She remained there for well over a year and underwent multiple surgeries before returning to Rwanda. But in that time, with the surgical and post-operative care she needed, her life was transformed.
“I came back and I was a new person.”
The home-coming was a joyful one.
“Everyone was so happy and running to see me. I was also so happy. I missed my family and wanted to see them. Even the people who used to say bad things, I didn’t care. They wanted to see me and are now my friends…. I missed Rwanda.”
Now, Rachel can pursue her dreams. She has returned to school and studies hard, catching up her reading and math. When she finishes school, she hopes to become a doctor or nurse, and maybe even work at Africa New Life’s Dream Medical Center, currently under construction in Kigali.
“I had many people who helped me, nurses and doctors…so I want to help other people like me.”
Rachel and her family are watching the progress of the Dream Medical Center with eagerness.
"From my experience, for the past 10 years while Rachel was sick I traveled a lot. Traveled from one hospital to another. I know how hard it was to find treatment for my daughter. Anything, anything that can be done to see the hospital built in Kigali where people can run to, instead of running everywhere, that is one of the things that would really make me so happy.”
For Rachel, the experience of the last 10 years was not just a journey in search of the right health care but also a journey of faith.
“God has done a lot of things. I would pray every day for what he has done for me. He does miracles. Some people they cannot see, but God shows people. We are here because of Jesus. Everything you do you do because of Jesus. You have to believe God in your heart. You have to do everything he wants you to do for him.”